Afrika Bambaataa, known as the “Godfather of hip-hop,” has been appointed as a visiting scholar at Cornell for a three-year term. He will work under the wing of the University Library’s Hip Hop Collection — the largest collection of hip-hop archives in the U.S, according to Prof. Steve Pond, chair of the music department.
“This is your favorite D.J.’s favorite D.J. If he’s not already someone you hold in your own fandom, someone who you revere already very much looks up to Bambaataa,” said Ben Ortiz, assistant curator of the University’s Hip Hop Collection.
Bambaataa’s appointment is the first appointment of a hip hop pioneer and legend to the faculty of a major university, according to Ortiz.
“The idea of a pioneer like Bam[baataa] coming to an institution like Cornell is groundbreaking. Bam has been a force for change, a force for cultural revolution for [more than] 40 years,” said Rich Medina ’92, a member of the Hip Hop Collection’s advisory board and himself a D.J.
Bambaataa is credited for coining the term hip-hop — a name he said he devised based on how people would react when they first listened to the new genre of music.
“When you heard [the music] and got understanding the beat, you really heard and saw everybody hippin’ and hoppin,’ “ Bambaataa said in an interview with The Sun.
Medina said that Bambaataa’s appointment as a visiting scholar is a way for Cornell to “pay homage to an enormous piece of hip hop.”
“This is an opportunity to destroy stereotypes and prove to the world that hip hop is as important to Americana as baseball,” he said.
The University’s relationship with Bambaataa began to develop in Fall 2008, when Bambaataa made his first trip to Cornell to speak at a conference honoring the Hip Hop Collection’s acquisition of the bulk of its artifacts, according to Pond.
Bambaataa has continued to visit Cornell regularly. In April 2011, he gave a guest lecture for a hip-hop class co-taught by Prof. Pond.
“It was terrific. People really wanted to hear what he had to say,” Pond said. “He was very willing to stand for questions and give everyone the benefit of his knowledge. It was a very good exchange.”
Bambaataa will be on campus for a few days at a time throughout his term as visiting scholar.
“Cornell will be his academic home away from home for the next three years,” Pond said.
Although Bambaataa’s schedule is not yet finalized, Pond said that Bambaataa and the Hip Hop Collection’s Advisory Board are planning at least one extracurricular event.
“We are currently planning for him to do a D.J. set,” Pond said.
According to Pond, Bambaataa is eager to contribute, not only on, but also off campus.
“He’s very interested in spending some time connecting with Ithaca, not only Cornell but the Ithaca community,” Pond said.
“We will be having him visit the South Side Community Center downtown again,” Oritz said.
Nearly 40 years ago, before he launched his hip-hop career, Bambaataa was a leader of a powerful gang in the Bronx, N.Y., called the Black Spades, according to Ortiz.
“The pivotal moment is him shifting gears from violent gang life to peaceful crew life,” Ortiz said. “He created an organization called the Universal Zulu Nation, the mantra of which is ‘peace, unity, love and havin’ fun.’”